Notes and observations from the eighth day of training camp.
Attendance: Wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith, tight end Ethan Wolf (ankle) and tight end Nick Vannett were not spotted during Friday’s practice. Linebacker Kwon Alexander continues to work out off to the side as he works to get back in action following December Achilles surgery.
Dress code: Pads
Overview: New Orleans practiced outside and had one of the more competitive sessions of camp to this point. The team continues to hold more physical sessions. Hoping we see some goal-line work soon.
Quarterback battle: The defense blitzed a lot during Friday’s session, creating a slightly different atmosphere for the quarterbacks.
Jameis Winston worked as the starter and looked the part. He handled the rush well and found soft spots in the defense throughout the day, mixing in a good amount of downfield passes. The quarterback finished 9 of 10.
Some of Winston’s best moments came on some non-descript plays. He hit Marquez Callaway on a short crossing route after doing an excellent job of noticing the blitz and stepping up in the pocket. On a deeper in route to Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Winston stood patiently in the pocket, let Alvin Kamara pick up a blitz and connected on the throw.
When Winston is on like he was Friday, he stands out. There was some help from the defense, which battled with some coverage busts, but he exploited those issues consistently. Winston saw the field well, handled the blitz and threw crisp passes throughout the day.
Hill got off to a great start, completing his first five attempts. He then missed on his next four attempts. The misses were rough, though. A pass that came in too high. Andrew Dowell tipping one away. An interception to Zack Baun. Two more passes that were simply off the mark. Everything felt hard for the Hill-led offense.
This battle is still far too close to call, but this one was Winston’s day. Winston has completed 70% of his passes when working with the first-team offense this camp, while Hill is at 64%.
Pass-rush highlights: Great day for the pass rush, as they got after it a little bit more than usual. Cam Jordan, Payton Turner, Carl Granderson and Kaden Elliss all had at least one sack.
Turner is starting to get into the habit of standing out during practices. Some of the rookie’s better rushes came when he was alongside Cam Jordan and Marcus Davenport. Center Erik McCoy has looked unbeatable at times throughout camp, but Turner gave him a good challenge and got on top of the center quickly.
Granderson had three sacks during the session. The pass rusher has flashed throughout camp and looks poised to build on the standout season he had last year as a situational pass rusher.
Inside one-on-one pass rush: McCoy looks unbeatable during pass rush drills. The center has a habit of stonewalling guys and not allowing them to get any momentum going. He looks ready to take the next step in his development.
Cesar Ruiz split a pair of reps with Jalen Dalton. Terron Armstead also had a dominant win over Marcus Davenport.
On defense, the three biggest wins were by Tanoh Kpassagnon (on Ethan Greenidge), Christian Ringo (on Christian Montano) and Turner (on Landon Young). Turner got off the line so quickly that it almost seems possible he jumped offsides, but the players never reset as they do when someone goes early.
Crawley remains perfect: One of the more impressive things going during training camp is that Ken Crawley has not surrendered a reception during one-on-one drills against the wide receivers. He broke up a pass to Ty Montgomery and has now won on all seven of his reps during camp, with at least four pass breakups.
After practice, Crawley admitted that he hates one-on-ones because there is so much field to defend and said the drills are rigged to favor receivers. The key to his success?
“Being confident,” he said.
Punter battle: Nolan Cooney is back from the abyss.
The rookie punter showed some consistency on his ten reps. He had two mishits that failed to hang in the air for four or more seconds, but the other eight attempts were all above that mark.
Cooney had struggled enough early in camp that it was fair to wonder if he’d get let go to make room for another player. Blake Gillikin still is well ahead of Cooney, but Cooney has a big enough leg to get back in the mix if he figures out how to become more consistent.
Inside run drill: Alexander got brought back to play significant snaps, but he’s going to have to beat out some of the other guys on the team, and they aren’t going to make it easy.
Pete Werner, in particular, is going to make it difficult. The rookie had two strong plays during a running drill and has excelled in this facet of the game throughout camp. Even if Alexander eventually takes the starting job, perhaps Werner could come on the field in place of Alexander in obvious run situations or as part of the base defense, as Alex Anzalone did last year.
Chase Hansen, Turner, Albert Huggins and Kpassagnon had strong defensive plays during this drill.
QB Jameis Winston – Big day for the quarterback. When he’s locked in, he looks the part. All he has to do is limit mistakes and keep making good decisions. He’s had a couple of errors during camp, but the good significantly outweighs the bad.
TE Adam Trautman – The second-year tight end had two catches, including one for about 15 yards up the seam. Seeing the tight end work the seam brings back visions of how effective that play was when Jimmy Graham was part of this offense. Not making a Graham-level projection or comparison – just pointing out something Trautman appears to do well.
DE Carl Granderson – Three sacks will get you on the three stars list. The pass rusher is doing what he can to show he deserves a big role despite the presence of Jordan, Davenport, Turner and Kpassagnon on the roster. New Orleans could have some real firepower at defensive end.
Play of the day: Remember how the Saints kept getting beat on bootlegs last season? The offense ran one on the defense on Friday that allowed Kamara to take off for a long gain. The play was well executed, and it featured a nice pass from Hill. Small moment, but remember that Hill struggled throwing passes with touch while on the move last year.